Published August 20. 2014 2:09PM Updated August 21. 2014 12:20AM
Mystic — Connecticut Light & Power Line Foreman Dion Dowling lifted a wooden squirrel cutout attached to a nonconducting “hot stick” consisting of fiberglass stuffed with foam. He touched the thin copper strip running across the base of the two-dimensional animal to a simulation power line attached to a generator.
“Now that squirrel doesn’t show that much damage. Other squirrels aren’t that tough,” he explained as he removed the wooden squirrel.
First responders from local fire departments and emergency management organizations throughout the area gathered in the back parking lot of the Hilton Mystic Wednesday morning to view the demonstration arranged by CL&P.
The goal of the event was to educate attendees about how to be safe around power lines by showing what happens when objects or living things come in contact with power lines, according to a CL&P press release.
“Today, with first responders, I would call it a refresher with those folks,” said CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross later on Wednesday.
The main piece of advice from CL&P Safety Manager Sean Martin, who narrated the exercise, was to stay at a distance of at least 10 feet from power lines. Gross said that people who encounter a problem with a power line, such as a downed line, should always assume the line is live and call 911. First responders, he said, know to call CL&P.
“Any day, a tree branch can fall on a primary,” said Martin, referring to a primary conductor or main power line.
He went on to describe how the “infamous squirrel” regularly causes outages.
“The squirrels unfortunately don’t know any better,” he said.
Tropical storms are a common cause of electrical danger on the shoreline, Dowling explained.
Throughout the demonstration, Dowling touched various materials to the mock-up primary conductor to show attendees just how dangerous even voltage as low as 7,600 volts can be.
Neon blue electrical bolts — ionized air, explained Martin — shot up in 2- and 3-foot arcs between the primary conductor and a slender wire, an aluminum ladder and other materials.
At one point, Dowling showed the audience how even a wet noodle of a string could conduct electricity.
“Anything that can get in that path, that can cause electricity to pass where you think it’s dead,” said Martin. Dowling cited balloon strings as another example of a mundane object that can conduct electricity with ease.
Dowling also cooked a hot dog on a fence connected to the simulation power line, to show how contact with a material that is conducting electricity would affect a person.
Martin said that had the voltage been equal to that of typical roadside power lines, the arcs of electricity would have been too dramatic for the audience to stand in close proximity to the demonstration. Roadside power lines are usually charged with 13,800 or 27,600 volts, and can create arcs of up to 8 feet, he explained.
Groton Emergency Management Director Joseph Sastre attended the demonstration alongside firefighters from Old Mystic, New London and Ledyard. He said he hoped CL&P would consider taking the demonstration, which is a new program for the company, to fairs and other public events.
“This is much better than the ‘don’t touch’ TV stuff,” he said.
Gross said that CL&P may consider doing public demonstrations in the future. This was the fourth demonstration the company has done since the beginning of August, and four more are scheduled to take place throughout the state by the end of September. The demonstrations are open to all first responders.